All in the Same Boat

When I was a teenager, two strangers came to our home. They were Russian, and I learned that they visited to thank my parents, who had helped them escape from the Soviet Union. I have since learned many stories of Jews who helped other Jews, risked their own safety, smuggled goods in and people out, in an attempt to aid those in need.

Such benevolence is not new. In the 15th century, some 250 Portuguese Jews captured at African seaports were sold as slaves throughout the kingdom of Alfonso V. The Jews of Lisbon formed a committee and, through the beneficence of philanthropist Yehiel of Pisa, hired the famous scholar and statesman Don Isaac Abravanel to redeem them. The redeemed slaves — men, women and children — were housed, clothed, fed and taught until they could support themselves.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh — all Israel is responsible for one another. In a world of atomization and individuality, our tradition reminds us that our responsibilities extend beyond ourselves. As the Midrash expresses it, one must not say the hole in the boat is only a danger for the one who sits above the hole. We sink or swim as a people; just as ultimately, we sink or swim as a world.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.